Graaf GM 200 OTL power amplifier Page 2

On the open road
Describing the sound of the Graaf GM 200 is all about Major Audio Concepts.

Its overwhelming sonic characteristic is a very special clarity and purity of presentation. Clarity divorced of musical context can, in my experience, sound analytical and hard. But I found myself enthralled by the Graaf's openness and lack of grain or mechanical artifact. It was easy to feel "close" to the music in that special way I've so far experienced only with single-ended amps.

This fundamental clarity permitted a wonderful sense of transparency and air to develop. While the presentation of the GM 200—in cahoots with the RM-50s—was generally soundstage-forward, that soundstage was always transparent to its deepest corners and beyond, and absolutely as airy as any audiophile could ever hope to experience and enjoy. We're talking Italian sensuality dolce vita.

(Credit must be given to the YBA 6 Chassis preamplifier for its outstanding ability to generate the most enormous, detailed, and pellucid soundfield of all the preamps on hand. The synergy was undeniable. Graaf's own $5500 13.5B tubed line-level preamp was no slouch either. Its softer focus and voluptuous, sexy presentation mated superbly well with the GM 200's clear, fast, powerful sound. Overall, I preferred the more extended, linear, and neutral YBA.)

The next Major Concept is the way individual performers "couple" to the soundfield in the listening room. This the GM 200 managed with great style and panache. On good recordings, each artist existed in a unique, beautifully developed, open surround of air that coupled to the other performers and the larger soundstage in a natural and coherent manner.

And one could never achieve such sparkling performance without the GM 200's hurtling, unimpeded speed. Think Mille Miglia: Jenks and Moss roaring out of Brescia on trailing throttle oversteer. Think Ferrari howling down the Mulsanne straight at Le Mans, two-thirds through and still accelerating at over 220mph. The blisteringly fast presentation made for a dynamic, impactful sound, impelled by a searing pace and razor-sharp timing. Twin turbos, no waiting.

"Fast" sound might be associated with a thin, analytic presentation. Not so the GM 200; it delivered a full range of seductive tonal colors and harmonics within an appreciably wide and linear power band.

Listening to Cassandra Wilson's Blue Light 'Til Dawn (Blue Note CDP 7 81357 2) was a revelation. Wilson shows wit, innovation, and style when refashioning the classics, and her own songs are quite superb. On "Sankofa" I noted a seductive openness in the mids and above, linear- and smooth-sounding right to the top. Wilson works three separate vocals parts; they harmonize and interweave with each other like dolphins skimming the ocean.

Wilson has a wonderful range, and in this set piece exults in her talent. What struck me was the singular way in which all three vocal lines came across as distinct entities of timing, rhythm, harmony, and, most of all, timbre. Take "I Can't Stand the Rain," featuring Chris Whitley on a National Resophonic Guitar. His expressive, fast-paced, Fahey-esque riffs bloomed out into space with good focus at the instrument's "launch plain." Wilson's soaring vocals emerged stage center, a lightly tapped foot marking the beat. Separate integrities flowing together, creating a single acoustic construct.

Try Chesky's new The Desmond Project, by the John Basile Quartet (JD156). Basile's wonderful musicianship, and that of his group, are without peer. I can listen to this recording all day. I have listened to it all day! "My Funny Valentine" struck me as familiar and yet totally fresh. The drumset shimmered in a vibrant cushion of air. The naturalness of the initial transients and the follow-on impact startled me; the palpability was of a very high order. While the bass was powerfully acoustic, it was betrayed by a mild thickness in the bottom octaves. I found myself largely undisturbed by this. Musically, it worked.

Bottom end
Re-creation of the bass range has long been acknowledged as one of the primary failings of OTLs. Unlike a conventional amplifier, an OTL design gives less power into lower impedances. Solid-state designs increase their output with decreasing load impedance. Falling impedance in the nether regions is exactly what OTLs don't want to see.

So how did we make out with the Joseph Audio RM-50s? Let's start with Susanne Vega's new Nine Objects of Desire (A&M 31454 0583 2) for its stupendous low-frequency content. In the likeably vapid "Headshot" the bass goes down powerfully—deep, ambient, room-energizing—then hits bottom. But rather than dropping away, it bloats out ever so slightly. The net result can sound a bit thuddy on some material, but at the same time quite powerful. The overall effect worked rather well at conveying the heft and weight of the bottom octaves.

In fact, the bass could sound positively menacing. Take the soundtrack for David Lynch's latest cinematic bauble, Lost Highway (Nothing/Interscope INTD-90090). Please. You'll find Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails, and Angelo Badalamenti pumping out psychedelic bass that'll give your liver a massage. And it works, making for an impressive, room-filling foundation that really sets the table. Try "Mr. Eddy's Theme," by Barry Adamson. My notes: "The soundstage is huge, fantastic, full of amazing sound and color. If anyone needs proof that you can achieve virtually wraparound sound from two-channel stereo, it's in this recording. The bass sets the music in cement!"

This is your life...Bill Evans!
Being there physically (imaging, air, body, palpability, etc.) is one thing, but I had the sense, regularly, that I was getting into the artist's head as well. This was nowhere more apparent than on Everybody Digs Bill Evans (JVCXR-0020-2), yet another must-have XRCD release from JVC. The music is infectious, the recording outstanding in every way. I could see and practically smell Evans bent low over the keyboard, forehead surely grazing the keys. I sensed the deeply felt emotional and intellectual bond between Evans and the music he was playing at that moment. "As flows Bill, so flows the listener," I jotted in my notebook.

I couldn't believe how fine Sara K.'s new Hobo (Chesky JD155) sounded. Listening to "Brick House," I sensed her presence behind the microphone, singing, I was sure, with her eyes closed as she feelingly grooved to the beat (and much as we'd seen her at the Bottom Line here in the Village). I felt an intense sense of inner exploration, one that I felt she must have experienced as well during the recording. It was magical.

Listening to the recent Classic Records release of Ravel's Rapsodie espagnole (LSC-6094 (2)), I jotted: "Stunning! Nitpick if you must the Bernie Grundman Highs. Not me, I love 'em. The amp lays out the treble with such clarity and boldness as to be almost piercing at times. music?"

What does it all mean? Well, it's not quite a full-fledged paradox. You couldn't call the GM 200 a "sweet" amp, really—it's got too much of the crystal-clarity thing going. Yet...within that clarity and purity of sound I heard all the colors and resonances of the musical rainbow. Very, very glamorous.

A word about composure...
Extremely high volume levels can be coaxed out of Classic's Rapsodie. Big, room-filing timpani strokes mark that instrument's place within a huge, startlingly present and dynamic soundfield. As the SPLs mounted and the sound in our listening room approached live-concert levels, the amp kept its composure (except for a touch of splash in the topmost treble under the most pounding climaxes). The vivid dynamics were always in proportion to the volume. With all manner of large-gestured and sweeping music—Art of Noise, Basie, Ellington, Ravel, Stravinsky—the GM 200 maintained a firm, powerful, unwavering grip on the speakers and the music.

It took us quite some time to get the GM 200 set up and really cooking. But once dialed-in, the amp was capable of conjuring up stunningly beautiful music that inspired and inflamed my imagination.

Here's what I think. You might like the GM 200 if you're the type who deeply appreciates style, craft, and art. (Presupposing, of course, that you can afford to indulge those tastes (footnote 1).) If being close to a perfect Ferrari 250 GT SWB or 275 GTB/4 Cam makes you weak in the knees, you might enjoy owning the GM 200. If you'd go into hock for a day in the current F50 (4.7 liters/12 cylinders/60 valves/513bhp), you'll love the GM 200.

If you're something of a connoisseur and there are no little kids with curious, sticky fingers about, the GM 200 is entirely recommended. It's not an amp to leave on all day playing background music, but for a breathtaking blast up the autostrada, it's hard to beat.

Footnote 1: Let's get this into perspective. Reading some of the correspondence, I see I've succeeded entirely too well in bringing you the fantasy of a cost-no-object audio lifestyle. Right...I only play one on TV. In reality I am but a struggling journalist. But we're all free to imagine and dream, no?—Jonathan Scull
PO Box 570
Chazy, NY 12921
(800) 771-8279